Post Academic


The MLA JIL Cottage Industry

Posted in Absurdities,The Education Industry by Arnold Pan on September 23, 2010
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I promise that this is the last post you’ll see from me about the MLA Job Information List — at least until I actually log on to it, either through buying my own affiliate account or poaching off the UCI English dept whenever it decides to renew its account.  But you’d be surprised by all the stuff you can find online typing in “MLA JIL” or “JIL MLA” or “ADE JIL” (which includes one of our very own posts near the top of the Google search list).  So here’s what I found searching for the JIL and trying to backdoor it and not being able to do so.

"Cottage Industry!" by Colin Smith (Creative Commons license)

The mlaconvention Twitter account: This is where all the action is if you want to find out all the JIL news, even if you’re not actually able to get on it.  We’ve linked to and been linked by the MLA’s Exec Director Rosemary Feal’s Twitter before responding to a call about reforming the dissertation, but who knew she would give a play-by-play on the status of the JIL while hosting and responding to comments by MLA members?  If you dig a little into the older Tweets, you’ll notice that the JIL had a very shaky and frustrating launch.  We’ve dogged the MLA quite a bit on this blog, but you can’t beat their customer service when the Exec Director responds to pretty much anyone who Tweets @ ’em.

MLA JIL LOLCAT: And to keep the restless natives entertained while they’re in the virtual line trying to get onto the JIL on the geeks’ equivalent to day-after-Thanksgiving shopping, the MLA has created its own gallery of…LOLCATs: “This #MLALOLCat is for all you patient #mlajoblist users!http://cheezburger.com/View/3977057024“.  You gotta give the MLA credit for trying to amuse the unamused masses, though isn’t “I Can Has Cheezburger?” so 2008 — which is also around the time the job market plunged and we probably needed the humor the most.

The Academic Job Wiki’s Una74: One of the best things about the Academic Job Wiki was the virtual community aspect of it, where people shared job info, advice, and a feeling of doom.  Those of you who are on the wiki might have noticed that many of the early listings have been put up by a user named Una74, who describes her/himself as a “Professional Lurker, Part-time Administrator of Academic Jobs Wiki.”  On the one hand, you wanna thank Una74 for the thankless job of posting all the job listings as they come up, especially when you, ahem, don’t have access to the JIL.  On the other, you wanna ask who made Una74 the boss of the Job Wiki–I mean, could we have applied for this position and can Una74 put it on a CV?  Considering that the Wiki has always been a communal effort, we’ll see if the presence of Una74 as a shadowy majordomo will change the dynamic of how folks contribute when we really, really need to find out about interviews, campus visits, gossip, and job offers.  (Seriously, I’ve been thinking about that!)  I imagine probably not, if some of the frustrated jobseeker posts already up on the Wiki are any indication: As one Wiki commenter noted, once the JIL technical problems were resolved, “yeah, now all we gotta deal with is how sh*tty the list is so far. at least in my field”.

Chronicle MLA JIL sites: I didn’t want to link this Chronicle message board, since we’re going head-to-head with it to see who’s higher on the “MLA JIL” Google search, but to heck with it.  All these message boards and Wikis do serve the function of being online support groups for those who need the support, even if you’re just lurking.  The we’re-all-in-the-same-boat gallows humor does help, like the shared experience of not being able to explain how the profession works to people outside it, as in this case:

A couple of years ago I was visiting my mother and told her there were only X number of jobs out there in French and she didn’t believe me. I popped open the laptop and went through the MLA JIL with her.  When she saw how many Francophone jobs there were she said, “Well, you must be wrong about what ‘Francophone’ means.”

Right mom. I was totally mistaken and am indeed a Francophone specialist without my knowing it. Thanks.

There’s also a breakout message board about “Predictions for 2010-2011 job season”, which is good vicarious viewing for those without proper JIL access.  While the numbers seem *relatively* encouraging — how could they not be after the worst market ever? — the comments are still caustic: When someone queried what the growth fields might be, the two sad-but-true replies were “adjunct studies” and “administration”.  Just because it’s depressingly true doesn’t mean it isn’t still kinda funny…

Remember this?: “Worst Salary Year” meets “Worst. Job Market. Ever.”

Posted in The Education Industry by Arnold Pan on September 21, 2010
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To christen the opening of yet another academic job market, we thought it would be a good time to revisit what’s happening with academic salaries.  I know, I know, you’re just getting excited about the fact that the first JIL has gone online, even if I personally still haven’t been able to log on because my Ph.D. alma mater has yet to renew its account!  I don’t mean to be a wet blanket or a sore sport–though it’s probably ingrained into my very being after whiffing my 5 times on the market!–but it’s not a bad idea to know what you’re about to get yourself into, if you’re that lucky in 1-in-200 (or more) who lands a position.  And if you’re not holding the winning ticket, maybe you won’t feel quite as bad if you don’t get that academic job. (Probably not much consolation still?)

Below is basically some info we gathered about salaries at the end of the last job application cycle, which explains that salary increases were, not surprisingly, the lowest ever.  But as with the job market, here’s hoping that you can only go up from the “worst [fill in the blank] ever”…

"Handshake (Workshop Cologne '06)" by Tobias Wolter (Creative Commons license)

The AAUP’s annual salary survey is not only being covered in education-oriented publications like the Chronicle of Higher Education and Inside Higher Ed, but also in the New York Times. Great–what we really need the “worst salary year” to complement the “Worst. Job Market. Ever.” (at least in English and Comp Lit), which we covered a few weeks ago on the blog.

The key take-away point from the high-altitude perspective of the survey is that the average pay increases across different disciplines and different ranks were outpaced by the rate of inflation.  As the Chronicle article sums it up:

In 2009-10, the average salary of a full-time faculty member rose only 1.2 percent. That’s the lowest year-to-year increase recorded by the association in the 50-year history of its salary survey.

To make matters worse, an inflation rate of 2.7 percent meant that many professors actually had less buying power than the year before. In fact, two-thirds of the 1,141 institutions surveyed over two years gave their faculty members either a pay cut, no raise, or an increase of less than 2 percent, on average.

If you take a brief look at the AAUP summary, what’s most shocking is the breakdown of percentage increase of salaries across different types of institutions: you’ll notice that about 20% of faculty received a raise of 0-.99% and that 30% or so had their salary decreased.  So basically around HALF the faculty around the country had a raise of less than 1% or took a pay cut, which means that 1/3 of faculty who received raises of 2% or more really pulled up the average.  Below are links to the AAUP survey itself, and to some of the news articles covering it:

2009-10 Report on the Economic Status of the Profession [American Association of University Professors]

“Professors’ Pay Rises 1.2%, Lowest Increases in 50 Years” [Chronicle of Higher Education]; the Chronicle also offers an easily searchable database for salary comparisons from the survey results that can be broken down by school, state, and institution type.

“Study Find 1.2 Percent Increase in Faculty Pay, the Smallest in 50 Years” [NY Times]

We also compiled some links to salary information, from salary search databases and self-reported job offers on the Academic Job Wiki:

University Salaries Revealed. Kind Of (April 1, 2010)

Show me the money!: More university salaries revealed (April 1, 2010)

The Law School/Grad School Parallels Strike Again!

PhotobucketGiven the state of the economy, attending law school might be as bad of an investment as attending graduate school–a situation that several publications have noticed recently. Now Psychology Today is getting into the act with some practical advice for those considering a postgraduate education in the legal realm.

For anyone tempted to go to grad school or considering quitting, this post is a must-read. I say this a lot, but the article makes it crystal-clear that the life of the mind isn’t right for everyone, especially those who are already in a troubling financial condition.

The smartest tip from the article is to calculate your best-case-scenario hourly wage after you get out of law school. In this case, take the law school stats in the post and substitute with the stats you think are likely for your career or debt situation:

–Suppose you land a legal job after graduation paying $65,000 (which sounds good). First, assorted taxes will take about 25% of your salary, so now you’re earning about $4000 per month. (And if you’re working 60 hours a week– not uncommon in the law– your net hourly wage is about $16.00/hour).
–Now let’s say you have $100,000 in student loan debt at an average interest rate of 6.8% … and you plan to pay it off in 10 years. That means you’ll be paying about $1150.00 a month for the next 10 years– making your actual law school debt about $138,000. (If you lower your payments by extending the loan for 20 years, your overall debt for law school becomes $184,000.

On the bright side, grad students tend to get a free ride plus stipend, so they don’t rack up the kind of debt that law students do. But keep in mind that, even with all the handwringing and hairpulling that law-school students are dealing with right now, they still have a better shot at a job.

To be blunt, it sucks that those who have the talent but not the funds can’t pursue their academic or lawyerly dreams, but do you want to roll the dice on getting a job and losing? Do you want to be the guy or gal who defaults on a student loan because you can’t find a job? Even if you choose to go anyway because it is your passion (and no one here at Post Academic wants to get in between you and your passion), you need to know the numbers up front, and you can’t always count on your advisors to reveal them to you.

Caricature of lawyer and politician Jules Favre from Wikimedia Commons, public domain.

The Best in College Novels: With Poll!

Posted in Surviving Grad School,The Education Industry by Caroline Roberts on September 17, 2010
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In honor of the new school year, the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel recently assembled an exhaustive list of the best novels set in the academy. Many of these novels perpetuate the notorious academic stereotypes that we lovingly detail in the Alcoholic Horndog Tenured Professor Stereotype on Film series, but author Mike Fischer sums up why the ivory tower is such a great setting for a novel:

But even the most dedicated scholars don’t live in a library, and the disconnect between impossibly high-minded visions of the quest for knowledge and the inevitably earthy compromises of everyday life can be extremely funny and unbearably sad – in ways we all recognize from our own lives, regardless of who we are or what we do.

Instead of depicting professors as stock buffoons, a good campus novel probes what happens when an unchanging, pure ideal encounters the real world. Some professor characters handle it well, and others don’t–which leads to some killer satire.

If you just entered the academy, consider adding some of the books on Fischer’s top college novels list to your own. These books may not help you pass your exams, but they will give you an idea of how to navigate the landscape. The list appears as a poll after the jump, and we’d love to find out which college novels you like the most and whether or not you prefer the heavy dramas to the lighter satires. (For me, “Lucky Jim” is the pinnacle of all of them, followed by “White Noise.” Just sayin’)

Jump below to get to the poll!

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In honor of MLA JIL opening day: Revisiting “Worst. Job Market. Ever.”

Posted in Broke-Ass Schools,The Education Industry by Arnold Pan on September 16, 2010
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"Copies of The Complete Worst-Case Scenario Surival Handbook..." by BrokenSphere (Creative Commons license)

So today is basically like Christmas day for the English and Comp Lit types looking for jobs, because the MLA Job Information List is finally up!  Many folks have been waiting for months and months for this day, which might explain why I can’t get on the mla.org or ade.org JIL sites.  Once their servers ever de-slam, and provided someone renews UCI’s subscription, we’ll try to offer some anecdotal analysis comparing this year’s initial job listings to last year’s edition.  Otherwise, we’ll just have to check and re-check the Academic Jobs Wiki today in hopes that someone will repost the jobs–might as well develop that habit and bookmark the site now, because it’s gonna happen sooner or later!

But to mark the occasion, we’re gonna give you a little homework in preparing for the job market and provide a little historical context.  We’re reposting a piece from this spring around when the blog just started, which basically digested the very sad and depressing numbers released by the MLA “Mid Year Report.”  I guess you could say that the report was “comforting,” since it pretty much confirmed that it wasn’t your fault you couldn’t find an academic job–2009 really was the “Worst. Job Market. Ever.”  Here’s hoping things are better this year, since they couldn’t be worse–could they?

This little nugget from the MLA via an Inside Higher Ed news blurb (forwarded to me by Caroline) all but confirms what many of us have known empirically or surmised: that the current manifestation of the job market is the worst ever — or at least since almost all current first-time job seekers were born.  According to a MLA midyear report, advertised job openings dropped from 1,380 English positions in 2008-09 to a projected 1,000 positions in 2009-10; for foreign languages, the drop went from 1,227 to a projected 900.  Most startlingly, the raw numbers indicate that this the fewest number of job openings in at least 35 years (see Figure 1 from the MLA report).  For job seekers looking for their first tenure-track position, the stats may even be worse, with only 165(!) T/T Assistant Prof positions in English and 97(!!) in Foreign Languages advertised in the “big” October 2009 Job Information List (see Figure 5 and Figure 6, respectively).

Check out how quickly this decline has hit the profession:

Year: Total Job Openings (English numbers/Foreign Language numbers) and Tenure-Track Assistant Professor Openings in Oct 2009 (E/FL)

2005-06: 1,687 E/ 1,381 FL total and 412 E/ 231 FL Asst Prof

2006-07: 1,793 E/ 1,591 FL total and 474 E/ 267 FL Asst Prof

2007-08: 1,826 E/ 1,680 FL (The highest number of openings since 1999-2000) and 384 E/ 244 FL  Asst Prof

2008-09: 1,380 E/ 1,227 FL and 299E / 236 FL Asst Prof (Keep in mind that many, many openings were cut after they were advertised in Fall 2008, at various stages of the process)

2009-10: 1,000 E/ 900 FL total (projection) and 165 E/ 97 FL Asst Prof

More bad news, below the fold…

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Great Employment Opportunity! #2: So basically, anyone can apply?

We’re back with our latest installment in our series highlighting and reading between the lines of job postings in lit fields, what we’re calling Great Employment Opportunity! (or GEO! for short).  Last time, we started with the ethnic lit catch-all, which I think will be quite prevalent this year, because I’m guessing that a lot of depts think they will have a preference for Chicano lit specialists, but still aren’t quite sure yet and will keep their options open.  But if you think the ethnic lit catch-all was vague and open-ended, check out today’s GEO!#2, which is so broad that the job calls in question should just ask for anyone who ever studied U.S. lit to apply.  Actually, that’s what the 3 sample postings we have for your perusing pleasure more-or-less do, courtesy of the folks setting up the 20-21 c. American lit page at the Academic Jobs Wiki site, of course:

"Main building of the University of Notre Dame" by Tysto (Public Domain)

Notre Dame: “Assistant Professor, American literature after 1900. Breadth and interest in various genres desirable.”

Princeton: “19th-20th – century American Literature. Candidates with expertise in theory and/or visual culture are especially welcome.”

San Diego State: “Assistant Professor: 20th and 21st Century American Literature . . . tenure-track assistant professor specializing in 20th and 21st century American literature. Desirable secondary specializations include race and ethnicity, gender and sexuality studies, literature and the environment, transnational and comparative studies, border studies, or media studies.”

So, great, if you’re applying for these jobs, you’re basically going to be in a pool of at least multiple hundreds of applicants.  Hey, at least, San Diego State adds some specifics, though there are so many of them that I’m not sure who is left out, since what person working in American lit over the past century doesn’t deal with race and ethnicity, gender and sexuality, and so on–maybe that burgeoning field on the intersections between New Criticism and the graphic novel might be snubbed, although I’m thinking specialists there could talk themselves into thinking they work in media studies, right?

My favorite of these job postings is the one for Princeton, which really could yield applications from almost everyone working in American lit, since I’m sure early Americanists who mostly work in the 18th c. could fudge their credentials in 19th c. and 20th c. implies 21st c., right?  I suppose those who work in “theory and/or visual culture” are licking their chops now, thought, you know, that might weed out 1 out of every 10 folks because everyone *thinks* s/he does theory in some way or another.  But speaking of weeding out, how many applications do you think have no chance the instant they are received for these positions?  I tended to avoid applying for jobs like these, because I figured I would never even get a reading among the hundreds and hundreds of applications, and assumed I needed a connection to grease the process for me, rightly or wrongly.

In the end, it seems like there’s no real criteria for the position, so what was the point–I might be full of myself, but I’m pretty sure I’m not the BEST scholar in 19th-20th c. U.S. lit that a job like the Princeton one would seem to be seeking, though who’s to say who that is or if it exists?  My friends would always say that you just have to apply to everything because you never know what might happen–except I did know from my experiences what was going to happen.  In the end, the wing-and-a-prayer GEO!s can add up, in time, effort, postage, pilfered letterhead, and inbox space.  Count me out!

The best-of list on which UC San Diego is #1

Posted in The Education Industry by Arnold Pan on September 5, 2010
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You probably know that our interest is always piqued by college rankings, like the U.S. News ratings and the Princeton Review’s best party schools list.  There’s a bunch of these lists coming out with the start of school, and one of the more interesting surveys is Washington Monthly’s best service schools rankings.  The top school in the country, by their measure?  UC San Diego, which can celebrate not being in the shadow of Berkeley and UCLA for once.  Here’s who rounds out the Top 10 on their list, as well as the best in Liberal Arts, Master’s, Baccalaureate schools, and community colleges.

"Geisel Library, UC San Diego" by Andrew Chen (Creative Commons license)

Top 10 Service Schools

1. UC San Diego

2. Berkeley

3. UCLA

4. Stanford

5. UT Austin

6. UC Davis

7. Michigan

8. Syracuse

9. Harvard

10. William and Mary

Best Liberal Arts school: Morehouse College

Best Master’s university: St. Mary’s University (Texas)

Best Baccalaureate college: Bard College at Simon’s Rock

Best community college: St. Paul College (Minnesota)

The main categories that go into the mix are social mobility, service, and research.  The social mobility ratings measure students receiving Pell Grants and the difference between projected and actual graduation rates, while service takes into account community service hours, work-study funds, and how many students go into the Peace Corps and ROTC.  On these grounds, it does stand to reason that top-level research schools that are designed to serve more economically diverse populations would fare better.  Hence, the strong performance of research-oriented state universities, though we in the UC know that the schools need to work on making themselves more and more diverse in terms of the racial and class make-ups.

The list seems to pride itself on offering a perspective that tries to separate out the factors of cultural capital and status from what a college offers, going great lengths to pick on the Yales and Princetons of the world as basically Wall Street farm teams.  As the magazine describes its own rationale, “Instead of asking what a college could do for you, we asked, ‘What are colleges doing for the country?’”  This methodology lends itself to a little Ivy bashing, as the editors question just what hedge-fund manager factories are doing for their country, a description that might not be entirely fair as much as we’d like to mock ’em.

Whatever the rhetoric or agenda, at least the Washington Monthly list puts the spotlight on really good schools that sometimes get the short end of the stick in the national rankings that prop up legacy schools.  And it seems to be a serious endeavor, which, as we know, isn’t always the case in these things.

Are Your Students Betting on You?

Posted in Housekeeping,The Education Industry by Caroline Roberts on August 30, 2010
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Image Source,Photobucket Uploader Firefox ExtensionDid you think Rate My Professors was the only website you had to worry about when it comes to teaching college? Well, a new website is allowing college students to place bets on their own grades:

A website called Ultrinsic is taking wagers on grades from students at 36 colleges nationwide starting this month.

Just as Las Vegas sports books set odds on football games, Ultrinsic will pay you top dollar for A’s, a little less for the more likely outcome of a B average or better, and so on. You can also wager you’ll fail a class by buying what Ultrinsic calls “grade insurance.”

Since students can only bet on themselves and the site isn’t gambling in the sense that you’re betting on what others will do, Ultrinsic paints itself as a motivational tool. Ultrinsic’s home page text proclaims: “The right amount of cash should provide you with the needed motivation to pull all-nighters and stay awake during the lectures of your most boring professors.”

Via: huffingtonpost.com More after the jump! Image of the French gambling aristocracy from Wikimedia Commons, public domain.
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Time to herd the cats! Don’t get wrecked by your recs…

Posted in Process Stories,The Education Industry by Arnold Pan on August 19, 2010
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"Herd of Cats" by Boksi (Public Domain)

I’m not sure I’m the person who should be giving this advice, seeing as I can’t even decide whether to save the dossier I currently have or just let it be sent to the paper shredder, where it probably belongs at this point.  But if I were to, say, start planning for the academic job market, which is closer to starting up than you think, I would probably at least start thinking about the most excruciating part of getting your application together: herding the cats–er, contacting your recommenders–so that you can have your dossier ready to go.  You know you’re gonna procrastinate when it comes to actually carrying out the palm-sweating task of asking your mentors to write your recs, so at least put yourself into that mindset now.  That way, you’ll actually be right on time after you keep putting it off–call it time doping!

What makes getting recs so stress-inducing is that it’s the only part of your application profile you really have zero control over.  If your CV is either too weak or really straining the limits of credulity, that’s on you for doing too little and/or embellishing too much.  If your cover letter is a mess and the job you’re applying for is a real stretch, that’s your responsibility.  But you have almost no hand in your letters of rec, short of deciding whom you ask to advocate for you.

What’s out of your control–and what you can try to do about it–below the jump…

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What’s up with the anti-college screeds? Part 2

Posted in The Education Industry by Arnold Pan on August 17, 2010
Tags: ,

So we might have gotten into a little kerfuffle with our previous anti-college screed, which involved the author of the article we were snarking on, James Altucher, finding our little blog and responding in the comments thread.  But, hey, if he’s fair game, so are we.  This time around, we’re asking for even bigger trouble, because I’m going to comment on an author whose book I haven’t even read–don’t tell me that, as an academic, you didn’t refer to or engage a text that you never cracked open, whether as an undergrad, grad, or prof!  Anyhow, I’m going to deal with Claudia Dreifus’s anti-college screed based on a Q+A she did with More magazine, so I’m basically going to launch into a polemic based on this.  I guess I could play it safe and just say that I’m responding to this interview, and not the book she’s promoting, called Higher Education? How Colleges Are Wasting Our Money and Failing Our Kids–and What We Can Do About It, co-written with Andrew Hacker.

It wouldn’t quite be fair to say that Dreifus is as extreme as Altucher, because she doesn’t suggest *not* attending college, advocating, instead, cuts to make college more affordable and suggesting that parents find good fits for their kids.  Couldn’t argue with that, right?  But that doesn’t really make contrarian headlines, either.  The interview, titled “Is College Worth the Cash?”, begins with a provocative quote from Dreifus:

Don’t send your kids to a status symbol. That’s what an Ivy League undergraduate education often is. At Yale and Harvard, undergraduate teaching is too often an afterthought; at the University of Pennsylvania, the classes can be as large as at many public universities. You’re really paying for the name.

Egad–say it ain’t so that UPenn might be in any way like a “public university”!  So, from the get-go, we might want to bracket the question of “Is college worth the cash?” with one asking if a “status symbol” Ivy League or equivalent worth the dough?  We should preface these questions by noting that Dreifus should know, seeing as she is herself an adjunct prof at Columbia, and probably not the poor kind of exploited, can’t-find-a-tenure-track adjunct, methinks.

But like James Altucher’s gadfly-esque piece, Dreifus’s interview begins with the same faulty premise: That the most expensive education at an elite Ivy League institution is the best measure of the worth and value of a college education, when that’s actually a possibility applicable to a very small constituency of students.

More below the jump…

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